Interview with Horticulturist Gene Rothert
What is Horticulture Therapy?
Horticulture therapy is a process
of bringing people and plants together for therapeutic benefits.
It is an active therapy mode, just as art and music therapies are,
and horticulture is used to treat a myriad of illnessesfrom
emotional, cognitive or developmental illnesses to coping with physical
disabilities. The most hopeful aspect of horticultural therapy is
it's versatilityanyone can benefit from it, regardless of
age, illness or ability. It is customized to the individual, including
the level of difficulty, just as any other therapy is.
Horticulture therapy restores well being, comforts
grieving, provides a constructive release for anger and frustration,
and relieves depression. Horticulture therapy can also help one
reinvent oneself following a sensory or mobility loss.
Horticulture therapy requires the expertise, guidance,
and supervision of a certified horticultural therapist. He or she
will set specific goals for an individual patient toward a specific
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How has Horticultural Therapy Been Used?
Horticultural therapy has been a
very effective modality tool in acute care settings, rehabilitation
hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, in healing gardens for children,
nursing home gardens, Alzheimer's treatment gardens, hospice gardens,
and enabling gardens for people with physical or sensory disabilities.
If you would like to learn more about
horticulture therapy, contact your local rehabilitation hospital
or the American Horticulture Therapy Society (800) 777-7931.
In the Chicagoland area, we're fortunate to have
the horticulture therapy resources of the Chicago Botanic Garden
in nearby Glencoe, Illinois (including certified classes for practitioners).
Visit the CBG Web site at http://www.chicago-botanic.org,
or call: (847) 835-0700; TDD: (847) 835-0790.
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Horticulturist Gene Rothert
Gene Rothart is President of the American
Horticulture Therapy Association and Manager of the Enabling Gardens
at the Chicago Botanical Gardens. He is also the author of Enabling
Gardens.(See Enabling Gardens Resources.)
Thursday, April 27, 2000
Infinitec: What got you interested in horticulture as a therapy
Rothert: Well, it was serendipitously.
I was studying horticulture at Southern Illinois University when
I had a spinal cord injury myself. A wheel chair user, went through
rehab, and had never heard about horticultural therapy until I started
working. But it seemed like a logical place to begin, so the rest
Infinitec: It seemed like a great way of
adding to what you already know. What do you personally think was
most beneficial about gardening for you?
Rothert: For me it's been a vocation as
well as a hobby so in that regard I think that horticulture is one
of the professions that is accessible or more readily accessible
to people with disabilities.
Infinitec: Did it help with your recovery?
Rothert: Not really. I didn't really have
a chance, when I was solidly into rehab, to practice it much, shall
we say, but now that I'm out working for a living like anyone else,
it certainly is a great hobby of mine, a recreational activity,
it's certainly a restorative experience for me to escape the day
to day world.
Infinitec: You've sure done a great job.
I've read your book and have been to the enabling beds at Chicago
Botanical Garden. I'm very inspired myself. Though I've never gardened
before, I am a new homeowner with M.S. and I'm considering some
of the ideas in your book.
Infinitec: What would you think would be
the easiest type of raised bed gardening?
Rothert: Well probably the easiest way
to begin is that you have to have the soil raised to a comfortable
working height and that's generally going to be with anyone with
a severe mobility impairment, or sensory impairmentsomeone
who is blind, for example, would find that a raised garden easier
Infinitec: Because of feeling it and smelling
Rothert: A container would make a readily
defined space that a person who is blind could readily find their
way around in. The main reason is, again, for people with mobility
challenges, which certainly can be caused by sensory impairments
as well, to raise the soil level to a comfortable working height
and perhaps the easiest way to begin doing that is with containers,
and rather large ones. So you're looking at trying to raise at least
18 inches to a 30-inch range of height.
Infinitec: Do you think it works out well
using containers on top of tables?
Rothert: Well, you certainly can make a
tabletop type of planter that allows a person to have knee clearance
and roll underneath it. The disadvantage in those situations is
that the shallow soil volumes in those kinds of setups dry out very,
very quickly so you would be best to either have a group setting
where a lot of people could participate in watering, or rigged up
to some sort of drip irrigation system. Otherwise, on a hot summer
day you'd have to water two or three times a day.
Infinitec: Well, thank you very much for
your time. I will be referencing your book, Enabling Garden, so
people can find information for every aspect of accessible gardening.
Rothert: I'd also refer visitors to the
Chicago Botanic Garden's Web site (http://www.chicago-botanic.org),
which has further information about the resources and information
that we have available.
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